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Saturday night’s alright for Maple Leaf comebacks…

I figured you wouldn’t mind an Elton John reference to kick things off.  The Winnipeg game was, well, different.  For a while, it was indeed ‘Saturday night’s alright for fighting” as Elton crooned years ago.  Orr and Holzer dropped the gloves for the Leafs. But more importantly, we saw another Leaf comeback, rather similar to what they managed against the Penguins exactly a week ago.  (For his part, Bogosian netted 17 minutes in penalties in the first period for the Jets, so he was plenty rested in time to finally score the shootout winner.)

This one was alternately exhilarating and infuriating for most Leaf fans, I’m guessing.

Losing in a lengthy shootout hurts, but the comeback saved a point, at least.  And kudos to Reimer.  He joined the game late, and was not tested much in the third.  But in the shootout, he stood his ground and used his quick reflexes to make some big-time stops and keep giving the Leafs a chance.

A few general observations/questions:

  • Despite my suggestion in my last post that it was time for Reimer to largely run with the ball, Carlyle started Scrivens (I had a feeling the coach wasn’t listening…). Were you fine with that?
  • I’ll keep this(yet another)  Kadri reference short.  We’re all seeing the same thing.  This season, Kadri makes whomever Carlyle puts on his line better.  Lupul’s first game back, Kadri sets up his two goals.  The young center has eyes everywhere, witnessed by his pass to set up the goal that got the Leafs back to 4-3 late in the second and created momentum going into the third.
  • The Jets are not a team that I feel is ready for prime time—and the pressure of the playoffs.  I’m sure their fans feel the same about the Leafs.  Like the Leafs, Winnipeg has some really nice young talent, some hard workers, some limited players.  (They also have, like most clubs, hot and cold goaltending.)  These are two flawed squads who, when they work hard and smart, can win games.  But emphasis on “flawed”.  I’d like to see them both make the playoffs.  We'll see.
  • Every time Kulemin has scored the past two seasons I say it should help his confidence.  I won't bother this time.
  • Fraser is one steady Leaf.  As you know I was a non-believer but I've changed gears.  A limited player, but when you understand your limits and play within them, he’s proving that kind of defender can be more than just OK at this level. I have to say though, Franson is a big part of the effectiveness of that defense pairing.
  • Did you like Lupul trying to engage the crowd from the Leaf bench after his second goal?  I sure did.  I wished he had stood up and pulled an Eddie Shack (see Eddie, right, in one of my favourite early '60s action shots of him, off his feet going after a Bruin...) and try to get the fans really going…
  • As I suspected, Lupul had the adrenaline flowing in his first game back and was active most of the night.  He dished out some big hits to go along with his offensive contribution.  It sure will help to have another player with offensive flair in this lineup.
  • Carlyle’s line juggling:  desperation or smart and timely?
  • Is Kessel actually “playing better” or is the puck just going in for him? (Nice feed from Bozak, eh, on the 4-4 goal...)
  • The Jets were clearly off their game after the Leafs scored to get within one late in the middle frame.  Did Winnipeg get a shot on goal in the first, what, almost ten minutes in the third period? Once tested, Reimer did make a big stop on Miettenen, I think it was, mid-way through the third. The stop on the Kane wraparound in the dying seconds helped, too.
  • I’m not saying they are similar types of defensemen, but will Gunnarsson and Phaneuf now play the big minutes and be our modern-day Kaberle and McCabe?

Five games without a “win”—are you concerned, or confident things will be fine?


  1. Given that Scrivens had a strong showing against the Pens and the loss wasn't 'on him', I'm actually glad that he got the start - even though the Reimer didn't 'deserve' to be pulled against the Jets earlier, turnabout is fair play, especially when Scrivens wasn't as 'calm' in the net tonight.

    For all those who say Carlyle is 'inflexible' - I think his line juggling was a wakeup call (not unlike pulling Scrivens, which I think he hesitated until Reimer would have some time to warm up that knee of his), one that extended beyond the 2-goal comeback before the end of the 2nd. He was looking for a spark and chemistry... a lot of players looked 'dopey' out there and needed to get their heads in the game! Phaneuf and Gunnar didn't seem to recover their old chemistry for much of the game... trust it improves if they're still together going forward.

    I also think that pairing Kadri and Lupul may foreshadow a 'pairing' that has an opportunity to grow some familiarity (outside the official 1st line 'spotlight'). Many have been calling for a Kadri promotion and this injury return provides a low pressure reason for 'a look'. Lupul can get his feet under him, too!

    The lack of patience in Leafland with people ready to write off Carlyle because of this adversity and the idea that he can't see what's happening is a strong indication of how desparate we are for a positive outcome this season (and how fragile is our confidence -- there is a lot of fear about 18-Wheelers (too bad the Jets had one on their side who contributed to our recent cliffside adventures).

    I'd rather see the Jets make the playoffs, than Carolina, if only for a long suffering (by complete absence of hope for a departed team) fan base. We can feel for them (with our playoff absence) but I still don't want to spot them any more points than necessary! I still think we can hold a spot, if the guys learned something from last year.

    This team has some skill on every line and should have an impact over the final part of the season. Thought Frattin was showing signs of being his old self tonight, too.

  2. Like you, InTimeFor62, I'm certainly not impatient with Carlyle. Nor do I see him as rigid and inflexible. In fact, as I keep saying, this has been nothing but a year of and for experimentation by Carlyle. This is hardly the roster he needs to win a championship, though he has some things to work with.

    I fear there is, in Leafland, a love affair with Dallas Eakins and some people are looking for reasons to call out the current coach. (I like Eakins too, but his success with the Marlies does not necessarily mean he would excel behind the Leaf bench. It's a whole other set of expectations...)

    I wondered about the Carlyle appointment a year ago, but the guy has been here for what, less than a full NHL season? He has a track record as a solid hockey guy. I will assume, as I've said before, that he might know more than we fans and the stats hounds. It's not like he's asking Phaneuf to play center.

    Thanks InTimeFor62.

  3. What bugs me is the rush to annoint Carlyle. The Leafs after the same amount of games as last year have less points. Over the last 10 games which is just under a quarter of the season, the leafs are giving up 4 goals a game. They have looked as bad or worse defensivly over those 10 games as they ever did under Wilson with the exception of 50 minutes against the Penguins in which they were very good.

    Look I don't know if Carlyle is the answer or not but when I said his stubbornness bugs me that was because up until last night he showed little or no inclination to change things. He ran with Kostka as a number 1 pairing defenseman when it was apparrent to all but a few he wasn't up to the job. Ditto for Holzer who is clearly not ready to play in the NHL period. I am one of those guys who have said that this year doesn't matter, that it is basically an audition year. However, I just haven't been all that impressed with the way Carlyle manages his personal. I think he is vastly over rated as a defensive guru and his in game player management is abysmal. I will give him credit for a vastly improved PK but the powerplay is really bad. His media relations are so much calmer and that really helps keep things calm, a welcome change from the previous coach. Although, that is about to be tested since this is the first serious adversity he has faced.

    The funny thing is every where I go to read about the Leafs, people always talk about how they are so much better than they were a year ago. It's like people think only the last 2 months of the season count. For 2/3 of last year we talked about the Leafs in the same terms people are using now or at least before the 5 game loosing streak. I distinctly remember people talking about how hard the Leafs worked, how fast they were, what a good forechecking team they were, how they never seemed to give up and just how hard they were to play. These are all the same things people are saying now. The only problem is the same things that led to the huge collapse last year are still present. I know Carlye is trying to see what he has but I don't really see the underlying problems being fixed or even addressed. I still say the biggest and quite possibly the only reason the Leafs got off to such a good start was because Riemer was playing very well. He has been at best average lately and the results speak for themselves. The other factor the Leafs had in their favour was "puck luck" and it has gone the other way in recent games. Witness the shootout tonight, both teams hit numerous posts, but it was Winnipeg that finally had one hit the post and go in not out. In past games, the Leafs had opponets hit 4-5 posts in a game and not score and they ended up winning in by a goal.

    The good thing is as Michael has said and myself as well, this is a bonus year. They are simply going to have better players next year, especially on defense. Things are looking up. I have waffled back on forth on whether they will make the playoffs this year (I'm really not sure) but they are going to be good next year. Next year or possibly the year after the Leafs will be a very good hockey team.

  4. MIchael,

    Thanks for posting after a crazy game. Quite the momentum changer wasn't it? I am by nature concerned. Phaneuf back on the right side with Gunner as his partner on the left. Ah, memories of Wilsons' past. These kind of moves reek of desperation to me. More than halfway through the season, goals against are a huge problem, again. It looks to me like Randy is out of answers. Throwing everything at the wall and hoping something will stick. Pulling the goalie twice this week, doesn't bode well for the future.

    I am not sure that Dallas Eakins is the future, or the answer to all our prayers either. The Leaf goalies after a wonderful start this year have fallen back to middle of the pack. They both need to refocus their efforts and battle back to where they were a few weeks ago. The team needs to help them out as well, but honestly, it is a goaltenders league.

    I hope its not just me, but I think that Lupul would be a very fine choice for captain of the Maple Leafs. He has won the Cup, been through a lot of adversity. Got run out of town by a coach, serious injuries, yet still is engaged enough to try to energize the crowd in his first game back. That kind of dedication and effort impresses me. I am not trying to knock Phaneuf, I just can't figure out why he is the captain. I wouldn't choose to follow Dion from what I have seen of him. It's not fair to say that I know, but it is what I see here that matters. In bigger terms I just don't think I would like Dion, in person.

    Lots of mediocre hockey to be played before the season is over. Will the Leafs be mediocre enough to make the playoffs or bad enough to get a good draft pick? It is my biggest wish right now that they don't manage to finish 9th in the East.

    1. Agree with Lupul captaincy. No more is it bvious than last night. Where Phaneuf disappears, Lupul radiates. When you see a guy who obviously was not pleased with the penalty came out and gave a hard side hit on a guy, it sends a clear message. When that same person scores a pivotal goal and challenged the opposition's bench, it sends a message. When that same person wakes up the suite in the grey with his encouragement, that sends a message.

      It was clear and it clearly needs to be done. How it should be done without bad optics is only via trade. Nonis would be wise to notice las night's game underlining tone

  5. Great post Willbur. There's no question fans liked the Wilson team last season - fast, great at head-manning the puck, exciting, hard-working, late comebacks- until we hit the wall.

    What I will say is this: when the team wins, we look for the good things; when we don't, we see the results and can find the faults in the team- and the coach.

    Yes, some have been critical of (harping on?) Carlyle even when the team was doing well in terms of wins. They point of the way he has handled Phaneuf and the various things you pointed out above. And the claim is any success was simply about better goaltending and good luck.

    But it is a different team (JVR, Komarov, McCLement); one that is grittier and finishes it checks more often. It's still flawed and makes mistakes, but I think the work ethic has improved overall. However, some guys just haven't been very good- or at least not up to their contracts. Is that on Carlyle?

    The organization needed to move away from the previous regime. Too loud, too boastful, too edgy and biting. We have a quieter GM, one not out for headlines and attention. And we have a coach who has his beliefs and likes what he likes, but has also "won". I'm willing to give him time and see what he can do.

    As you say, Willbur, the troops are coming (Gardiner, Rielly and possible UFA/trade additions) so next year and subsequent seasons should see a competitive team.

  6. The Dion captaincy question is "moot", I guess, but still a fair one for discussion, Jim. My impressions are like yours. He was "rushed" into the "C" by a GM who desperately wanted someone to represent his supposed "brand" of tough hockey. For me, Phaneuf is just not that guy, and seemingly not the guy who cries "leader". Maybe it will come with time?

    At least last night was exciting at times. But yes, lots of mediocre hockey to come over the next six weeks. The playoffs are still there for the taking in the East, for what it's worth. Plenty of teams will struggle, I'm guessing. Too many flawed rosters out there for them not to.

  7. Hi Michael

    I am fine with starting Scrivens in fact I thought Riemer had performed below par in the past several games. Scrivens didn't made the BIG save last game but it wasn't because of him that the Leafs lost. The team as a whole is fragile and Reimer in my opinion tends to let in a bad goal every game during the recent stretch. This would be very bad on the psyche of the team so I think the rationale is there. Reimer did play well in the third and in the shootout although I'd like to see the 5-hole 1st goal back. I would think logically, Reimer should be back in net.

    Carlyle, I think is not hesitant to switch when he deems necessary. That said, I'd wish he was the same regarding the rest of the team. As you know I am not a fan of phanuef in a sense that he is playing beyond his ability. It is probably circumstance given the perceived lack of personnel. Carlyle's reliance of Phanuef is something that I wish he would reconsider. I really think once you make it to the NHL, the talent pool is pretty level. The trick is put the people in the right place to excel and be successful. Systematic play makes this more attainable. A team that consistently plays to set plan and don't over exert has a higher percentage of success.

    If some weren't convinced that the Leafs are not part of the elite and are only competitive, last night should reaffirm it. There were 7 opportunities to win the game in the shootout and they did not execute. No elite teams miss those opportunities. To take some solace out for coming back the latter part of the 2nd is misplaced since this was the Jets and not the Bruins. I think it is fair think that this year was merely an exploration but as this team continue to falter the latter half year in and year out, some serious core personnel decisions needs to be reconsidered.

    One last note. I thought the decision to have Phaneuf and Franson take a penalty shot instead of Gabbo should raise some red flags. There could be an impending issue here.

  8. I sense Carlyle is still trying to find pieces that fit, Lukas. Phaneuf is our "big guy" on defense, but is he really a "number one"? And does he make the guys he plays with better? Some nights I would argue the answer is yes, especially given that he has played with inexperienced guys (at this level). But he himself struggles at times. He would no doubt be better as a number 3 defenseman with lower demands and expectations.

    Much the same applies throughout the roster. We have had, for years, to push guys up into positions they may not be quite good enough for. I think Carlyle is working reasonably well with the roster he has.

    The Grabbo thing is interesting. I don't normally pay a lot of attention to shootouts (I thill think games should end in a tie- this OT business is all junk for me...) but it is odd that Grabovski sat. I'm not in the camp that thinks he's had a really solid season, as some suggest, because of his defensive demands (covering other team's big lines). For his salary, he needs to prevent and score. Hasn't done it, nor has Kulemin.

    Issues, yes. Nothing new in Leafland. I still see a playoff berth on the horizon- if they get goaltending. Thanks Lukas.

    1. As I hope and agree with you that the Leafs would make the playoffs for as much as I am tired of listening to the Sens fan mocking my faith while living in Ottawa.

      I agree that Gabbo's play really does not warrant his $5.5 and I thought he shouldn't be paid elite money when Burke resigned him. Maybe future salary escalation or his performance will make it more palatable. As much as one like to think that professionals should act accordingly, there are personalities and emotions involved. Nowhere is this more relevant in professional sport where passion elevates to a different level. What I sense is that Gabbo might not take it too kindly for being on the bench and Carlyle's post interview where he hints of lack of "skill" in Gabbo in relation to Phaneuf and Franson. I am just wondering how he would react.

      I gather the chicken and egg better=play more. But that is hard to apply when Phaneuf's hasn't play much better and yet he is exempted.

  9. I agree the Leafs are looking like last year's selves recently. As I've written here before I don't think a team can be changed into "defensively minded" just because the coach wants it that way. You can tweak a players game, but cannot change it.

    The reason Fraser is playing well is because he has always been the type of guy Carlyle wants the others to be. Kostka and Holzer started out well because they were already in mid-seasonh form, when the rest of the league caught up with them they lost the edge they had.

    Kadri and Lupul seems like a weel thought combo. There is no need to break up Kessel and JVR, s this seems like the right thing to do. Will we roll 3 lines equally now? I don't see why not.

    Better players are needed, yes, and for Carlyle's system to truely work, players naturally "defence first" will have to come in.

    When our luck evens out I think we'll be OK. I see a 6th to 8th place finish in the east.

  10. Lukas- re the Phaneuf captaincy. That would be a huge shift around here. I'm not against it. Just not sure Nonis would make that kind of move. It would alter the landscape, for sure. (And open up the captaincy for a guy that others might actually "follow".)

  11. It was a better effort than last year in a key game.

    They got a point and their chances to make the playoff are 76%. This week will be key. Losses against Pitsburgh, Boston and even a streaking Winnipeg are somewhat understandable. This week they have to get the easy points against weaker teams like Tampa and Buffalo. If they lose those games, I fear we are on a slide like last year.

    I don't like the play of Holzer. I am starting to think it was Fraser that that made that Marlies paring of Fraser/Holzer so good last year. I would rather see Kostka in Holzer's spot. There is also Gardiner and I wonder if they could bring up Paul Ranger after the trade deadline? Ranger is back and had a +2 game yesterday, so he is plus 23 in 39 games. I thought Ranger always played much better than Holzer. At the trade deadline, Liles, Holzer and draft pick should net a decent 2-way defenseman to play with Gardiner in the NHL.

    I liked our forwards last night. I could go into the playoffs with that group, but I would like to see Lupul reunited with Kessel I still wouldn't mind a veteran defensive forward for the fourth line. I keep thinking of John Madden when he won that 3rd cup with Chicago as his career was winding down.

    The trade deadline could be very interesting this year.

  12. I think we all would acknowledge that we had the breaks when we were winning; less so lately, portuguese leaf. That usually balances out, as you say.

    Fraser is indeed a Carlyle-type guy. Not flashy but solid. Now, Randy had Niedermayer and Pronger in Anaheim, so that helped. But they also won because their "non-stars" (third and fourth lines, third-pair defensemen) were solid and played smart and tough. That's what he wants here. He's not anti-skill. No coach is. But most want a hard edge, along with some skill.

    I'm with you, portguese leaf. The playoff spot is there for whoever takes it.

  13. Not to defend Nonis/Carlyle, DP (I know you're not being critical of them) but my guess is they are literally trying to see this season what they have. They have tried Kostka and now Holzer lately. They want to know if these guys have what the Leafs will need for when they are actually contenders for something beyond a possible marginal playoff spot.

    As you say, this week will be telling, you would think. Winnable games against flawed teams- just like the Leafs. Who will want it more? Sounds simple, but that's what it will come down to- along with goaltending and breaks.

    I loved Madden, too. Perfect complementary/versatile guy on a really good team. I wonder if Nonis feels we're not "close enough" yet, though, for that kind of addition. Good stuff. Thanks DP.

  14. This is precisely where things get tricky, Lukas. What does Carlyle really (and I mean really) feel about Grabbo? A lot of us (even people like myself, who were decidedly not pro-Grabovski in his early days here) came to love his fight and spirit- the Chara hit in Boston springs to mind, of course.

    But this is the second seaosn in a row where some of us wonder what happened to the gritty Grabbo we thought we know. And even if fans like him, what is the coach seeing? That's more important than what we see - or want to see, in Grabbo's play.

    When it comes to expectations, players want coaches to a) be consistent and b) apply the same level of measurement to every guy on the team- no exceptions. I find it hard to believe that Carlyle is "picking" on Grabovski or favouring any other player. (You're not suggesting that, I realize, Lukas.) He doesn't seem to operate that way. But it will be interesting to watch down the stretch.

    This is still a team in transition. More moves to come, I'm thinking.....

    1. You could not have said it better Michael about player's expectation of coaches. What matters is not how we as fan feels but how the players on the teams perceive and feel about the coaches and each other. Maybe I am overly sensitive but it would be interesting to see.

      I also sense that something will be done. Whether via trades, which I hope or personnel movement, it is always exciting time this time of the year and more so when the Leafs are in a playoff position.